When it is your job to deliver something, it pays to make sure the expectations are set correctly. Whether it is the time it will take, or the functionality that will be delivered, or the money it will cost, always make sure the expectations are set in your favour.
Let’s consider expectation setting for your customer. Firstly, start the process early in your project. When you are planning your project, assembling your resources, doing your fairy story (see ‘Quantification’) consider yourself in the role of a tradesman, for example Plumber or Garage Mechanic.
When asked how long something will take, or how much it will cost, by management or a customer, perform the following mime:
- Look them in the eye with a furrowed brow and slightly puzzled expression.
- After a few seconds, purse your lips and, placing your right hand on the top of your head, slide it backwards towards your neck, massaging the back of your neck briefly. (you may place your other hand on your hip for effect, but this dual function manoeuvre is not for beginners)
- Now carefully breathe in through your teeth and pursed lips, a slight whistle at this point is good.
- Now tell them the bad news.
Practice this in front of a mirror until you perfect it.
The bad news will depend on how much time you’ve had to prepare. If you are being put on the spot, think of a number and double it at least, as a starting point. However, if you’ve had time to work out the details, double it and have it on a bit of paper, it will always have more credibility.
On the other hand, when you are passing on your expectations to your team, for example, always go the other way. Set their expectation to ensure the team deliver more functionality, earlier or using less resources. This way, you will have some contingency; either time or Slush Fund to play with.
It’s such a useful thing that sometimes you can forget the inherent danger of Excel. Lets get one thing perfectly straight, putting a big pile of numbers into Excel and making them all add up doesn’t make it reality. It’s a real shame really because it can all look so nice, especially if you put boxes round the numbers and have some colours, maybe even a funky font.
Of course, the mastery of the spreadsheet is an essential skill and is often the best way to make everyone assume that you are an extremely capable manager. Just don’t start to believe the hype. That’s when it can go wrong. So, assuming we know we are simply dressing to impress and fundamentally lack substance, here’s a few things to make them all ooh and aah at the project review.
- Conditional formatting – make things change colour automatically, usually green for good red for bad. Demonstrate this to people who walk past your desk – they will be impressed.
- Charts, if it’s a report or a comparison, always include a Chart – it takes up space, provides some nice colours, and because it’s pictures, Senior Management, and even Salespeople will think it’s great.
- Use Standard Deviation in a formula somewhere, randomly if necessary. When discussing it refer to it as ‘science’.
An important thing to remember, even when you are customer facing type of PM, is that one valid answer to a question is ‘No’.
If you say ‘yes’ to every request, every desire, every whim of the customer, you will certainly have a happy customer… …for a while. But when it gets closer to the deadline and you still have a stack of work to do, or you have run out of budget, or you now have every resource in the company working on your project for 18 hour days and weekends, they will start to lose faith in you. And that’s when all those favours you did them and all that wonderful helpfulness and positivity will be forgotten and the knives will be out.
You don’t necessarily need to be nasty about it, in fact in many cases you won’t even need to say the word itself. Just make sure everything you agree to do, will help you achieve the deliverables. And in all cases, make sure you use your big pad of Change Control notes.
But, when you can turn it round and make the person asking the question say ‘No’ for you, then you know you are good at your craft.
Tip: explain to them how much you would love to do what they are asking. Explain how, if it were up to you, you would have no hesitation in doing it. Then when they see how on their side you are, point out to them all the negatives on doing it, such as delays elsewhere in the project, lack of resources, extra cost, etc. If you are good enough, eventually they will see the error of their ways and back down, acknowledging of course how good a job you are doing.
Be vary wary of ‘it’. ‘it’ can be your friend but ‘it’ can also be your enemy. If a salesman says to you “I’ve sold it”, it’s an enemy, but if a customer says ‘when can I have it’, ‘it’ just might be your friend.
‘it’ is the simple embodiment of the perception gap that usually exists in projects. You need to either close it or leave depending on whether or not it is working in your favour.
This is probably the most galling fact of all. You work in I.T. You have a right to expect that you share your working life with well-educated, well-trained, competent individuals. This is why you feel alone. This is why you get frustrated. What will free you from this hell is if you just accept that probably as many as 85% of all people working in IT aren’t very good at it.
In fact, brace yourself, Project Management is probably the most guilty discipline of all. Think about it. How many people have you met he have stumbled into Project Management solely because they weren’t actually any good at anything else and specifically because the role of Project Administrator is very often confused with Project Manager. Collection of timesheets does not a Project Manager make.
Try this test. Give one of your so-called Project Management colleagues this book and if they say things like “That’s terrible” or “Very funny, lucky it’s not actually like that” make a mental label of “Arse” for them in your head.
Bizarrely enough, contrary to what almost every IT training establishment and ‘Big Consultancy’ firm will try to tell you, Project Management is not difficult.
You need a very basic set of skills: To be able to write, basic arithmetic, a rudimentary ability to interact with people. If you don’t have these basic capabilities, you should probably be asking yourself how you managed to get the job you have now.
There’s no magic wand for delivering software projects, no black art or burning of effigies, it’s all to do with commonsense. If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do, no question.
Plan ahead as much as you can. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, don’t panic or fret, just think about what will put you back on track, then do it. If people question your intentions or
strategy, question them back – things like ‘Do you want to take the responsibility for the delivery of the project?’ are always good. You can keep the ‘I didn’t think so’, for a theatrical aside.
Always remember that you know better than anyone else about your project – after all, it’s your project, you should know it better then anyone else. So, you decide what is required and then take responsibility for making it so. Remember, over 85% of people in senior IT positions don’t know what they’re doing.
This is one of the key skills for a software Project Manager. Having the ace of spades in bluff up your sleeve means you don’t actually have to know everything about your project or, indeed, anything about anyone else’s.
You only need to bluff enough to get you beyond the current situation, then you can find out the real facts, or assign the responsibility to someone else. So, the trick is not to appear phased by anything and to give the impression that you know all about the problem/situation/issue, but avoid coming up with any radical solutions until you have time to think it through properly. Remember, if you overdo it, you may end up left holding the baby.
Using a few basic rules of engagement, you can bluff your way through progress meetings, planning meeting, budget meetings etc.
The more experience you get in the software game, the better your ability to bluff will become. It’s an experience thing, but make sure you practice.